China sends a message

When I saw this last night:

China’s top newspaper on Wednesday published a call for a review of Japan’s sovereignty over the island of Okinawa — home to major US bases — with the Asian powers already embroiled in a territorial row.

The lengthy article in the People’s Daily, China’s most-circulated newspaper and the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist party, argued that the country may have rights to the Ryukyu chain, which includes Okinawa.

The island is home to major US air force and marine bases as well as 1.3 million people, who are considered more closely related to Japan in ethnic and linguistic terms than to China.

The authors of the article, two scholars at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, considered China’s top state-run think-tank, said the Ryukyus were a “vassal state” of China before Japan annexed the islands in the late 1800s.

“Unresolved problems relating to the Ryukyu Islands have reached the time for reconsideration,” wrote Zhang Haipeng and Li Guoqiang, citing post-World War II declarations that required Japan to return Chinese territory.

I knew in my bones I’d see it at CDR Salamander’s place this morning.

China in the last 5 or so years has become increasingly expansionistic. As their military and economic power has risen, so to has a significant percentage of both the leadership and the population become more vocal about reclaiming territories they deem their own.

Ten years ago, the supposition was China primarily posed an expansionistic threat to Taiwan. Today, the emphasis has shifted away from Taiwan. That doesn’t reflect a change in mainland China’s goal for control of Taiwan, but rather a belief by many that sooner or later, Taiwan will fall effectively, if not de jure, under Chinese rule.

What is interesting in this case is that most of the previous recent disputes about maritime properties have related to areas with potential for resource exploitation such as oil, gas, or fishing rights. While there is certainly economic potential in the Ryukyus,  any Chinese control of Okinawa would best be seen as an outpost of a defensive chain, much as the Japanese used several chains of islands during World War II. For that matter, much as we use it as a forward outpost today.

This increasingly aggressive foreign policy has sparked something of an arms race along the Rim of the Pacific. South Korea, already committed to strong self defense against its nutty neighbors to the north has in the past few years put great effort into expanding its navy. Today is it fielding world class blue water destroyers and helicopter carriers. The North Koreans have virtually no navy, and while this buildup can be seen as a balance against Japan, the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force has long had a significant destroyer force. That force never lead to South Korea building up its navy before. Once can only conclude it is in response to the expansion of the Chinese fleet.

China is also feeling its oats along the China-India border.

One wonders what major shift in US foreign policy may have occurred in the past five years that might have encouraged China to embrace an increasingly confrontational foreign policy.  Of course, the Chinese bear ultimate responsibility for their actions, but failure of the US to provide clear leadership and an unambiguous policy in the region isn’t helping matters.

10 thoughts on “China sends a message”

  1. It is the nature of states to push the boundaries. Every state does it. Every state has the duty to hold its frontiers. If they can’t then they don’t deserve to. We should not be anti-change force for status quo just because. It’s like climate voodoo. People act as if they believe that man can change to atmosphere or that it somehow must never ever change at any cost. And yet it does.
    Why do you care if China takes over a rock in the ocean? What’s it to you? Is it your rock? Do you worship at a shrine there? Did you buy it with an ocean of blood–and then give it back? Who cares who claims the rock? If the rock is rich in resources so what? The Chinese sell their stuff. They need resources to make stuff. They buy and sell resources. Why do you care if a Chinese apparatchik gets your money instead of Philippine, Vietnamese, Thai, Russian, Japanese or Korean apparatchik? Is it worth so much that you’re willing to die for it?
    Hawaii? That’s ours. It’s worth fighting for. What did any of those countries listed above do for you that makes you willing to fight and die for their rock?

  2. It’s the Salami-tactics thing, Curtis. Yeah, who wants to fight for 1% of the Salami when one has the other 99%?–and so on down the line until they control 51% Then the psychology shifts to: “They’ve already got the majority anyway, so why spill blood over the remainder” every time they take another slice. One has to decide at what point one steps up to stop the process–which is why the practice of Foreign Relations is an art, not a science..

  3. VX, oddly enough I agree with you completely. When it comes to dying for Danzig I’m willing to spend the lives of every single Prussian and Pomeranian and throw in a few Hessians. Let them fight and die to hold their lines. I think I have a grasp on how the world shapes itself to reflect the will of the people. We don’t happen to share any frontiers or boundaries with actual China. Our only treaty obligations I know of are to the ROK and Japan but we aint planning to fight Russia to restore the Kuril Islands to Japan and I don’t see any reason to fight China over any rock in the ocean no matter who it belonged to. I have no problem at all if the Tigers want to tussle with China or each other over rocks but let’s leave them to their own devices for awhile.
    My read on history is that China is about to get slammed by the revolution of rising expectations and they’ll likely combine ruthless suppression of dissent at home with some foreign adventures to take everybody’s mind off the ‘not seen on TV violent repression’. International diplomacy also consists of advising an ally that, “in this case, I’ll be happy to hold your coat. You get ’em!” Sadly our diplomats are more the April Glaspie type and bungle us into wars through sheer stupidity and incompetence.
    The question that nobody ever answers me on is, “how do you beat China?” They’re quite willing to suffer millions of casualties and we balk at 4,000. Hell, we balked at 2000. Sure, we can destroy China but what does that by us? It will be another useless bit of ‘you broke it now you must fix it.’
    There’s an endless stream of idiots that seem to think we need to build up our navy in preparation for a naval war with China over rocks. Lost on them is the simple fact that we don’t make the advanced electronic components needed for weapons and warships in the US anymore and have not done so for many years. They’re all made in China.
    I feel a little pity for the Tigers. They screwed up big time and now they begin to realize it. They opted to join the non-aligned back in the Cold War when sticking with the US didn’t seem like a cost effective or economical approach to their dedicated self-interest and now if they try to reach out and embrace warm diplomatic and military relations with the US they know the Chinese will treat that just exactly as you’d expect; with considerable animosity, which leads to damaged trade relations. Kind of like the defensive only mobilizations that proceeded WWI when each European country saw they had no choice but to mobilize because Germany did. It was the only possible way to be ready for war but it played a huge part in starting the war. The step before war initiated war and all the players knew it would in 1910. ASEAN needs to ready its own armies and navies and not look to us anymore than Pahlave and Mubarek undoubtedly did.

    1. Curtis/

      Agree with you totally about war w. China. As an old Polish veteran of the Polish diplomatic intelligence service named Kulski who was a visiting professor at Tulane asked our grad seminar once: “What’s the next worse thing to w. losing a war w. China?” A: Winning it. Like the dog who finally catches the city bus–what next? Kulski posed the question: “How many Chinese-speaking administrators could we muster to put in place to run the country at the most elemental levels of providing water and electricity, let alone anything else?”
      FEAR the Tar-Baby!

  4. PS: Forgot to mention that Kulski had just retired from Duke–was part of the pre-WW IIPolish Diplomatic service, so was personally “present at the creation” as it were and had some fascinating stories about Chamberlin & Hitler at Munich, etc.

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